Fiction — From the October 1851 issue

The Town-Ho’s Story

( 4 of 8 )

“I left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman shook the backstay. Hardly had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior mates and the four harpooners, who all crowded him to the deck. But sliding down the ropes like baleful comets, the two Canalers rushed into the uproar, and sought to drag their man out of it toward the forecastle. Others of the sailors joined with them in this attempt, and a twisted turmoil ensued; while standing out of harm’s way, the valiant captain danced up and down with a whale-pike, calling upon his officers to manhandle that atrocious scoundrel, and smoke him along to the quarter-deck. At intervals, he ran close up to the revolving border of the confusion, and prying into the heart of it with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his resentment. But Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them all; they succeeded in gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily slewing about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass, these sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.”

“?‘Come out of that, ye pirates!’ roared the captain, now menacing them with a pistol in each hand, just brought to him by the steward. ‘Come out of that, ye cut-throats!’

“Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there, defied the worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to understand distinctly, that his (Steelkilt’s) death would be the signal for a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands. Fearing in his heart lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little desisted, but still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to their duty.

“?‘Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?’ demanded their ringleader.

“?‘Turn to! turn to !—I make no promise; to your duty! Do you want to sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this? Turn to !’ and he once more raised a pistol.

“?‘Sink the ship?’ cried Steelkilt. ‘Ay, let her sink. Not a man of us turns to, unless you sweat not to raise a rope-yarn against us. What say ye, men?’ turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their response.

“Gigartina confervoides,” by Anna Atkins, from Part VIII of her book Photographs of British algae: cyanotype impressions (1850). Courtesy the New York Public Library.

“The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his eye on the Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these: ‘It’s not our fault; we didn’t want it; I told him to take his hammer away; it was boys’ business: he might have known me before this; I told him not to prick the buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here against his cursed jaw; ain’t those mincing knives down in the forecastle there, men? look to those handspikes, my hearties. Captain, by God, look to yourself; say the word; don’t be a fool; forget it all; we are ready to turn to; treat us decently, and we’re your men; but we won’t be flogged.’

“?‘Turn to! I make no promises: turn to, I say!’

“?‘Look ye, now,’ cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm toward him, ‘there are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped for the cruise, d’ye see; now as you well know, sir, we can claim our discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don’t want a row; it’s not our interest; we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but we won’t be flogged.’

“?‘Turn to!’ roared the Captain. “Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said: ‘I tell you what it is now, Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a shabby rascal, we won’t lift a hand against ye unless ye attack us; but till you say the word about not flogging us, we don’t do a hand’s turn.’

“?‘Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I’ll keep ye there till ye’re sick of it. Down ye go.’

“?‘Shall we ?’ cried the ringleader to his men. Most of them were against it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they preceded him down into their dark den, growlingly disappearing like bears into a cave.

“As the Lakeman’s bare head was just level with the planks, the Captain and his posse leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over the slide of the scuttle, planted their group of hands upon it, and loudly called for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock belonging to the companionway. Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something down the crack, closed it, and turned the key upon them—ten in number—leaving on deck some twenty or more, who thus far had remained neutral.

“All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward and aft, especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway; at which last place it was feared the insurgents might emerge, after breaking through the bulkhead below. But the hours of darkness passed in peace; the men who still remained at their duty toiling hard at the pumps, whose clinking and clanking at intervals through the dreary night dismally resounded through the ship.

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  • Doghouse Riley

    Wow!

    Thanks!

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